Divorce, bereavement and financial hardship age people’s brains by around four months and shorten life, new researches suggest.
A single ‘fateful life event’ (FLE), which may also include miscarriages, causes the regions of older men’s brains linked to memory, attention and thought to become thinner, a study found.
Study author Dr Sean Hatton, from the University of California, San Diego, said: “Having more midlife FLEs, particularly relating to divorce/separation or a family death, was associated with advanced predicted brain ageing.”
This is thought to be due to such incidents causing ‘internal’ stress, which leads to cell damage, reduced immunity and genetic changes, according to the researchers.
It is unclear whether such ‘older’ brains increase people’s risk of conditions like dementia or mental-health disorders.
Previous figures show between 40 and 50 percent of marriages in the US end in divorce.
The researchers analysed 359 men aged between 57 and 66 years old who were participating in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Ageing.
The men were asked to record life-changing events that took place over the the past two years.
These were then compared against a similar list collected five years before the participants joined the study.
Within a month of completing the latter list, the men underwent MRI scans and other health assessments.
The researchers note the study was carried out on a snapshot of people, adding it is unclear if women or younger people are similarly affected by FLEs.
They add their findings may help people understand their brain health relative to their age.
The findings were published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.
Previous studies found heart disease patients benefit from having husbands and wives who nag them to lead healthy lifestyles.
Meanwhile, the analysis of nearly 9,000 people’s experiences underscores well-known connections between money and well-being, with prior studies linking lower incomes and rising income inequality with more chronic disease and shorter life expectancy.
“This is really a story about everybody,” said lead researcher Lindsay Pool of Northwestern University’s medical school. Stress, delays in health care, substance abuse and suicides may contribute, she said. “Policymakers should pay attention.”
Overall, wealth shock was tied with a 50 percent greater risk of dying, although the study couldn’t prove a cause-and-effect connection.
The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers analyzed two decades of data from the Health and Retirement Study, which checks in every other year with a group of people in their 50s and 60s and keeps track of who dies.
About one in four people in the study had a wealth shock, which researchers defined as a loss of 75 percent or more in net worth over two years. The average loss was about $100,000.
That could include a drop in the value of investments or realized losses like a home foreclosure. Some shocks happened during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Others happened before or after. No matter what was going on in the greater U.S. economy, a wealth shock still increased the chance of dying.
Women were more likely than men to have a wealth shock. Once they did, their increased chance of dying was about the same as the increase for men. Researchers adjusted for marital changes, unemployment and health status. They still saw the connection between financial crisis and death.
“We should be doing everything we can to prevent people from experiencing wealth shocks.”
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